The Social Structure of Claudius' Principate

Some notes on the social structure of claudius' principate including quotes from Tacitus and Suetonius.

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o Equites: Non-senatorial aristocracy of Italy, ran local communities and sat on local councils
(supposedly, grew in power and influence during Claudius' reign)
o Initially, Claudius was very popular with the Equites due to his being an equestrian before he
became emperor and already having garnered their support from his time among them ­ as
shown by the following Suetonius quotes:
o SUET. ` The knights twice chose Claudius as head of a deputation to the consuls: the first time
was when they requested the privilege of carrying Augustus' body back to Rome on their
shoulders; the second, when Sejanus' conspiracy had been suppressed and they were offering
o SUET. `At Claudius' appearance at the theatre or amphitheatre the entire Equestrian order
would rise and take off their cloaks as a mark of honour.'
o However, Claudius' popularity among the Equites dwindled over his reign due to his execution
of over 300 of them (SUET. `He executed thirty-five senators and 300 Roman knights,') due to
his paranoia over conspiracies ­ there was also the influence of his freedmen and wives who
sought to remove any enemies by exploiting this paranoia
o These fears were not necessarily unfounded though: TACIT. `... at Rome a knight named Cnaeus
Nonius was found wearing a sword at the emperor's morning reception. No motive became
evident then or later. Under torture, he did not deny his guilt. But he revealed no accomplices;
whether he had any to hide is unknown.' ­ The use of torture stated here provides evidence
for Claudius' no nonsense approach to possible threats to his position, just as power hungry as
the rest of his family? Or try to prevent the conflict that would arise from the sudden death of
an emperor who hadn't properly set up a succession, possibly resulting in civil war? Both?
o Equites resented Claudius bringing in other Equites from Greek-speaking provinces, e.g.
Balbillus, as majority regarded them as threats to their positions which they felt should remain
in Italian hands - Claudius' incorporation of elite provincials into the Italian aristocracy/cursus
honorum was a method of creating stability, as it made the provinces feel more equal to
Rome, thus less oppressed, thus less likely to rebel
o The senators in turn resented the increase in power that the Equites experienced over
Claudius' reign, as they saw the equestrian order as being below that of the senators and so
should not have as much power/influence as they did
o SUET. `He (Claudius) awarded consular regalia even to his provincial agents of the second class;
and if any of them declined his promotion, would not allow them to remain Knights.' Shows
how the knights/ Equites increased in power in influence as they were forced to have consular
regalia by Claudius ­ trusted them more than the senators?
o Senators resented:
Power and influence gained by freedmen and wives of Claudius due to his centralised
administration within his court ­ could not truly trust the Senate or give them the same
amount of power die to the possibility of conspiracies to overthrow him
Foreign elite being incorporated into the Senate ­ TACIT. `"Italy is not so decayed," said some
(senators), "that she cannot provide her own capital with a senate." TACIT. `"Let them, by all
means, have the title of Roman citizens. But the Senate's insignia, the glory of office, they

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Claudius incorporated the Gallic elites into the senate to help create
stability in the provinces by creating an idea of equality between Rome and the most
unsettled province i.e.…read more

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Narcissus and Pallas: `But his firmest devotion was reserved for Narcissus, his
secretary, and Pallas, his treasurer, whom he encouraged the senate to honour with large
gifts of money and the insignia of quaestors and praetors as well.…read more

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Claudius experienced popularity before he was Princeps due to his relation to Germanicus:
SUET. `Claudius often presided as Gaius' substitute at the Games, where the audience
greeted him with: `Long live the Emperor's Uncle!' and `Long live Germanicus' brother!'' &
SUET.…read more


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